It's been a memorable year for Fletcher Cox. The Eagles defensive tackle helped his team win a Super Bowl in February, earned his third Pro Bowl invitation, and was a second-team All-Pro selection for the third time in his career.
Back in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss. (pop. 11,180), they had a parade for him and even named a street after him.
Not just any street, mind you. The biggest street in town. So long, River Road. Hello, Fletcher Cox Road.
If Cox continues to be as unstoppable as he was Thursday night in the Eagles' 18-12 win over Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Yazoo City might soon have a new name. What do you think of Coxville? Or Fletchertown?
The man who acknowledged in April that he has set his sights on the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award spearheaded a fierce pass rush that sacked Ryan four times, hit him on 13 other occasions, and helped hold him to his lowest completion percentage (.488) in seven seasons.
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Eagles 18, Falcons 12
Officially, Cox, who is the team's defensive captain, had one sack and four hurries. Unofficially, he pretty much was in Ryan's lap much of the evening, pushing around Falcons left guard Andy Levitre, a 10-year veteran with 141 career starts, like he was a stuffed animal and opening things up for the rest of the Eagles' front four.
"He's a leader,'' said veteran defensive end Chris Long, who had Cox to thank for his fourth-quarter strip-sack. Cox's pressure up the middle prevented Ryan from getting rid of the ball and allowed Long to circle around and bring down the Falcons quarterback from behind.
"He has a 'C' on his chest this year, which is a big thing,'' Long said, referring to Cox's captaincy. "But I feel he's always been a leader. I'm just excited about him having that 'C' on his chest. Having been one before, I know what that means. He's respected like that in this locker room. He feels empowered by that, and he can push us along on bad days.''
This wasn't a bad day, at least not for the Eagles' defense. After a slow start, Cox, Long and the rest of the Eagles' front four spent much of the night forcing Ryan off his spot and not allowing him to get comfortable.
"We settled down, and we all got on the same page with our rushes,'' Cox said. "We've got a couple of new guys [on the line]. Mike [Bennett] is new to the group. And we're just trying to complement each other in the way that we rush. Everybody's being a selfless player. It's great.''
>> READ MORE: Running backs got going just in time
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn't call a lot of blitzes. But the ones he did call were extremely effective.
He sent middle linebacker Jordan Hicks up the middle in the second quarter. Hicks destroyed running back Devonta Freeman, who tried – and failed — to block him, and registered just the third sack of his career. Hicks later split another sack with Long.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles clinging to a 10-6 lead, the Falcons had a third-and-3 at the Philadelphia 15-yard line. Schwartz called a zero blitz, sending seven rushers after Ryan.
The quarterback's hurried throw off his back foot for Julio Jones was short and hung in the air too long, allowing cornerback Rasul Douglas to step in front of Jones and intercept the pass to foil the scoring threat.
"It's like Jim says,'' Long said. "We're not going to blitz all day. But when we do, we've got to be surgical. And we were. That's the way it's got to be. Because people are going to be afraid of our rush. When you throw a couple of blitzes in there, it really messes them up.''
The Eagles held Ryan without a touchdown pass for just the sixth time in the last six years. The Falcons managed to get inside the Philadelphia 20 five times but made it to the end zone on just one of those trips.
The Falcons converted just four of 15 third downs, including just two of their first 11. Ryan completed just six of 13 third-down passes. Only three of them produced first downs.
"He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league,'' Cox said. "The key was getting him off his spot. Hit him. We got some shots on him, but he stood in there and still got the ball off.
"There were a couple of times he took a shot and still completed the pass. You gotta admire a guy like that.''
The Falcons had just one receiver with more than 26 receiving yards Thursday. That was Jones, who finished with 10 catches for 169 yards. But it was the quietest 169 yards in league history.
The Eagles actually should have had six sacks, but two were negated by offside penalties against second-year defensive end Derek Barnett. He moved on one of them and lined up in the neutral zone on the other.
"I can't be doing that,'' Barnett said. "That's bad football. That's not championship football. That's something I'll correct this week before we go to Tampa.
"Those are two dumb-ass mistakes I need to get rid of and put behind me.''
One of those negated sacks belonged to Long; the other, to Cox.
"I just told him, 'Listen, I've been there before. Don't dwell on it,' '' Long said. "But I also told him, 'I'm not making a lot of money this year. So next time, maybe you could let me get the sack.' ''
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